Martin Dempster: Steve Williams deserved to be hit with an instant ban

GOLF has been dragged into the gutter by the racist remark aimed by Steve Williams at his former boss, Tiger Woods, and the situation could conceivably deteriorate further at this week’s Australian Open.

Williams, in truth, shouldn’t be at The Lakes in Sydney after saying that the “main aim” of his over-the-top performance in winning a ‘celebration of the year’ award for caddies was “to shove it right up that black a*******” in reference to Woods.

The Kiwi should be serving an instant ban, having accepted what he said at the event during the HSBC Champions event in Shanghai “could be construed as racist” as he issued an apology on his website.

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Yet operating under the guise of the International Federation of Tours, the organisation which runs the World Golf Championship events, European Tour chief executive George O’Grady and Tim Finchem, his PGA Tour counterpart, have let the matter pass without punishment.

Which is all the more surprising given that Williams is no stranger to putting his foot in it, having once described Phil Mickelson, Woods’ big rival at the time, as “a right prick” during a function in his native New Zealand.

Tiger stood by him then and now Adam Scott, Williams’ current employer, is doing likewise, though his judgment may have been influenced by the fact that the Australian’s game is starting to improve again and he feels Williams has had a positive influence on him on the golf course.

Scott has been caught in the middle of a row that has nothing to do with him whatsoever, apart from the fact it was his win, in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, that sparked Williams’ award-winning celebration, which came after he’d been sacked by the former world No 1.

Contrasting views have been expressed on the situation by Greg Norman and Fred Couples, the two captains for next week’s Presidents’ Cup at Royal Melbourne, where the field will also feature Woods, Scott and, of course, Williams.

Responding to what Williams said about Woods, Couples said: “If that was Joe LaCava (Couples’ long-time caddie who is now working for Woods), he wouldn’t be caddying for me today. If [a caddie] has that kind of anger for a good guy, I don’t want him around me.”

But Norman replied: “We’ve all made stupid comments at stupid times, unfortunately his stupid comment became global news. I know he probably regrets saying it but I guarantee you in that room on that night there was probably some heavier things said.”

Let’s hope not, Greg, because the mind boggles as to what could be “heavier” than what was uttered last week.

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There is no chance of organisers pairing Scott and Woods together in the first two rounds this week and rightly so. The the last thing golf needs is to become a circus. But, at the same time, there is a desperate need for Woods and Williams to sit down and at least try to clear the air.

“Because of the temperature that was going on between the two of them, anything that is said or not said is going to exacerbate whatever that feeling is,” observed Norman.

“I hope it gets resolved. Golf doesn’t need it. Golf needs Tiger back playing great golf like he used to. Golf needs the cohesiveness that’s always existed.

“There’s always been underlying currents, not everybody loves everybody and the people who dislike each other; we just have a tendency of parting our ways and not seeing each other. But to have it play out like it’s played out has been a bit sad for the game.”

So, too, is the decision not to hand out any punishment, although it is debatable what effect hitting Williams with a fine would actually have had given he’s the richest ‘sportsman’ in New Zealand – all on the back of lumping a bag round the golf course.

You could also say that the Kiwi has imposed his own punishment by blurting out what he did last Friday night because stigma has a habit of sticking.

Scott himself is keen for the matter to go away. “I have discussed this matter directly with Steve and he understands and supports my view on this subject,” he said. “I also accept Steve’s apology, knowing that he meant no racial slur with his comments. I now consider the matter closed. I will not be making any further comment.”

Sorry Adam, but this one is going to rumble on for a bit longer. Woods may have proved a master over the years at shying away from anything controversial, but he can’t ignore this one.

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But with the help of Norman, and Couples, too, hopefully, golf can come out the other side of the next fortnight with its reputation not having suffered any further damage.